Waterfalls and Railroad History in Saluda, North Carolina

Tucked in the foothills of western North Carolina, there is a small wildlife park called Pearson’s Falls. It was three years ago when Jeff and I first visited the park. I remember driving through the very windy, country roads over asphalt and gravel, and through a tunnel decorated with graffiti before arriving at the non-descript entrance. An older woman met us at the gate and asked us if it was our first time to Pearson’s Falls. We both said yes, and she promptly told us to have a good time and that the park would speak for itself.

We paid our nominal entrance fee and parked in the half-dozen spot lot before bundling up and setting out for a quick hike. It was December when we first went, and we were definitely a bit cold in the deep forest surrounded by cool water streams. Everything about the wood seemed to reflect the winter air between the green mossy rocks, the damp wooden benches, and the humidity in the air.

Hiking through Pearson’s Falls Preserve.

The path to the massive waterfall is under a mile, and the terrain is easy with a slight incline, which makes it easy for most people to enjoy. The first bridge we came across was gorgeous. It was like something out of Lord of the Rings with the wet stone and fuzzy moss. But after just another rounded corner, we heard rushing water.

A few more steps and we met the 90 foot drop. It was completely stunning and the sound was quietly meditative. In the winter, the park didn’t have many visitors, so Jeff and I got to enjoy it to ourselves. It would only be a couple more days before we moved to London, so it was a perfect lasting image and experience.

The beautiful falls themselves.

Fast forward to this past August when Jeff and I went back to Pearson’s Falls with fresh and experienced eyes. The park was a little more full with other hikers and patrons and also a bit warmer, but it is still quite out of the way for those looking for solitude. We may have aged in the years between visits, but we were no less enthralled with the waterfall and the surrounding atmosphere.

Before: December 30, 2013 :: After: August 27, 2016

Named for Charles William Pearson, a local engineer who scouted the North Carolina mountains for the Southern Railroad, the glen was purchased and a home for the Pearson family for many years, but in the 1930s with the Great Depression, portions of it had to be sold to make financial ends meet. But before a timber company could come in and destroy the majestic area, the Tryon Garden Club purchased the land and preserved it.

Green, green trees and peaceful streams from the falls.

There are over 260 acres of land in the preserve, but we only explored the area inside the walkable park. It’s a short walk and a small park, but it is no less impressive and a rich part of the Blue Ridge Mountain history.

The town of Saluda, famous for its dangerous railroad.

Pearson’s Falls sits inside of a small town called Saluda. At first glance, there is not much to the tiny town, but as we drove through the main thoroughfare, we discovered a strip of interesting shops and galleries. Once known as an “artist’s town,” Saluda is a perfect place for a Sunday lunch or day trip.

Quaint shops in Saluda range from cafes to garden supply to art galleries.

It was thanks to Mr. Pearson and his help in bringing the Southern Railroad that Saluda grew with commerce and people. Previous to the railroad system, the town was mostly the Pace family and their liquor operation, but with the railroad, the town was connected to Spartanburg, South Carolina and Asheville, North Carolina.

A fun convenience shop with a retro feel.

What makes Saluda also famous for its railroad is the terrain. The Saluda Grade was and still is known for its treachery. A 600 foot drop to the mile is this rail’s claim to fame and the reason for many, many deaths. The crest of the three mile long grade is in this town giving reason for tourists to still travel there.

Toward the west side of the town, there is a railroad depot museum along with many remnants to old Americana such as a souvenir shop where you can pan for gold (or stones) and an old convenience store with antiques and rusted signs.

You can pan for stones at the Saluda Gem Mine.

The Saluda Arts Festival every May is a big deal in the town because Saluda was historically a summer retreat for artists looking to relax and work. But every July there is the annual Coon Dog Day Festival where the town comes together for lots of food, world famous Southern music, and a festive parade where they crown a king and queen.

A local hardware museum with Coon Dog Day t-shirts for sale.

Back in 1949, the Blue Ridge Coon Dog Association needed to reverse the near extinction of the raccoon. Proceeds from fundraising barbecues through the 1950s went to restocking the woods, and the popularity grew so much that in 1963, the first annual Coon Dog Day Parade and festival began.

Since we visited the small town in the fall, we missed both festivals, but after seeing some pictures and reading about these individualistic events, I can only imagine how much fun and unique they are to the city.

If you’re looking for a fun place to stop while driving around the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway or hopping in between towns near the border between the Carolinas, I would recommend stopping for a lovely lunch at the Purple Onion (where they roast their own coffee and tell you stories of how to make your own almond milk) or window shop through the numerous galleries along the main street.

Fun artwork on display at the Meanwhile, Back in Saluda Wineshop.

Also nearby Saluda:

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